Charleston cruise port guide: Plan your trip to the Holy City - The Points Guy (2024)

Frequent cruisers are likely familiar with popular East Coast cruise ports, such as Boston, Baltimore, New York City and Cape Liberty in Bayonne, New Jersey. But did you know you can also cruise from the Carolinas? The cruise port in Charleston, South Carolina, is a driveable distance from several cities, including Charlotte (three hours) and Raleigh (four hours) in North Carolina.

Charleston might not be a bustling cruise home port like PortMiami, but the city is a destination in its own right. And if you're sailing with American Cruise Lines or Carnival Cruise Line, you'll find plenty to do in the Holy City before or after your cruise.

Plus, the Port of Charleston is easy to get to from Charleston International Airport (CHS), and the city offers a good selection of points hotels for a pre- or post-cruise stay.

For more cruise news, guides and tips, sign up for TPG's cruise newsletter.

Here's everything you need to know about cruising from the Port of Charleston.

Port of Charleston fast facts

Port of Charleston cruise terminal information

Address: 32 Washington St., Charleston, SC 29401

Number of terminals: 1 (passenger terminal)

Map (PDF link)

Cruise lines sailing from the Port of Charleston

Currently, two cruise lines depart from the Port of Charleston.

Charleston cruise port guide: Plan your trip to the Holy City - The Points Guy (1)

Daily Newsletter

Reward your inbox with the TPG Daily newsletter

Join over 700,000 readers for breaking news, in-depth guides and exclusive deals from TPG’s experts

American Cruise Lines' Historic South & Golden Isles Cruise and Holidays in the Southeast cruise depart from Charleston. Additionally, Carnival Cruise Line's Carnival Sunshine cruises out of Charleston on round-trip four- to 10-night sailings to the Bahamas and Eastern Caribbean.

Charleston also serves as a port of call on repositioning cruises or longer East Coast and Bahamas/Bermuda itineraries with cruise lines such as Viking, Regent Seven Seas Cruises and Royal Caribbean.

Related: How to book a cruise using points and miles

Airport near the Port of Charleston

The Port of Charleston is 12 miles (about 25 minutes) from Charleston International Airport (CHS). Various airlines fly to CHS from other U.S. cities, including American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, JetBlue, Alaska Airlines, United Airlines, Southwest Airlines, Spirit Airlines and Frontier Airlines.

Your disembarkation time might not align with your outbound flight time. So, if you have time to kill at the airport, you can spend it at The Club CHS lounge. The lounge is in the main terminal on the second level toward Concourse B. A daypass is $50 per person unless you have a Priority Pass membership through premium credit cards like the Chase Sapphire Reserve® or The Platinum Card® from American Express (enrollment required). AAA members get in at a discounted rate of $42.50.

How to get to the Port of Charleston

You have a few options for getting to the cruise port from the airport or a hotel in Charleston.

Hotel shuttles

On-site parking isn't available at every hotel in downtown Charleston, so leaving your car at the hotel while you cruise likely won't be the best way to go. However, some area hotels offer shuttle service to the port or provide complimentary transportation within a certain distance from the property. For example, The Dewberry Charleston offers guests complimentary transportation within 5 square miles of the hotel via its Volvo house cars. The cruise port is just over a mile from the hotel.

When you are choosing a pre-cruise hotel, inquire about transportation to the cruise port before you make your reservations.

Independent van/car services

You can arrange private pickup and drop-off through car and van services like GCT Chauffeured Services, which will cost between $100 and $199 for up to three people.

Taxis and ride-hailing services

Hailing a taxi to get to the Port of Charleston is simple. At the airport, taxi service is at the center median just outside baggage claim. Taxis charge a $17 minimum fee from CHS. Taxi fares are based on a trip meter rate of $3 per mile, which includes up to two passengers. You'll either pay the $17 minimum or the fee displayed on the meter at the end of the trip (whichever is the greater amount). Additional passengers are $7 per passenger, per trip. Based on taxi rates in Charleston and the distance from the airport to the cruise port, the estimated fare is $30 to $40.

Ride-hailing services such as Uber and Lyft are also an option. Follow the signs outside the baggage claim area to the sheltered pickup area across both roadways. You'll find it to the right of the last sidewalk.

Public transportation

Charleston's public bus service, Charleston Area Regional Transportation Authority, does not currently provide a convenient station or stop to the cruise port.

Port of Charleston parking

The majority of cruisers sailing out of the Port of Charleston will be driving to the port, arriving the day of departure or the night before. Therefore, the port offers plentiful on-site parking.

Long-term parking for cruise passengers' vehicles at the port does not require reservations. Parking is located within a gated area available only to cruise passengers and not the general public, and port police secure and patrol the site during the cruise.

A complimentary shuttle bus runs between the vehicle parking areas and the passenger terminal on both departure and return dates of the cruise.

The cost for parking standard-size vehicles is $21 per day. The parking fee for oversize vehicles longer than 20 feet (campers, recreational vehicles, buses) is $50 per day. You can pay for cruise parking with a credit card, debit card or money order. Cash is no longer accepted as payment for parking.

The Port of Charleston provides free parking for vehicles displaying a valid accessible parking placard or license plate with ID. Wheelchair services are available inside the terminal. Alert a cruise port staff member for assistance.

Off-site parking is available with private companies like Park & Go, which offers cruise parking for $10 per day. It does not provide shuttle transportation from the lot to the cruise terminal, so you would need to take a taxi or Uber to the port.

A public parking garage is also an option. The maximum rate is $18 per day. The Cumberland Street parking garage (90 Cumberland St.) is the closest one to the port, less than a mile away.

Related: The best credit cards for booking cruises

Hotels near the Port of Charleston

Charleston cruise port guide: Plan your trip to the Holy City - The Points Guy (2)

The Charleston area offers an abundance of hotels, including some properties at which you can use or earn points. Whether you want convenient access to the cruise port and the city's historic downtown or to enjoy a riverfront pre- or post-cruise stay, here are a few to consider.

Hilton hotels near the Port of Charleston

For a quick overnight before a cruise, the Hilton Garden Inn Charleston Waterfront/Downtown is an ideal option (41,000 to 60,000 Hilton Honors points per night).

Its location on Ashley Marina provides easy access to the Charleston Historic District and other downtown attractions, and it's just under 2 miles from the cruise port. Amenities include an outdoor pool, a fitness center and free breakfast.

If you're looking for an upscale stay, Mills House Charleston, Curio Collection by Hilton is an excellent choice (80,000 to 459,000 Hilton Honors points per night). It exudes laid-back luxury with a distinctly Southern style, and the rooftop pool bar area is a prime spot for spectacular views of Charleston's steeple-filled skyline.

Related: Best Hilton credit cards

Marriott hotels near the Port of Charleston

For Marriott Bonvoy loyalists, there's the Courtyard Charleston Waterfront (30,000 to 59,000 Marriott Bonvoy points per night), which sits about 3 miles from the cruise port. On certain dates throughout the year, you can also use a Marriott 35,000-point free night certificate to cover a stay here.

Relax by the fire pit, or take a dip in the outdoor waterfront pool. The Bistro is the hotel's only restaurant, but it also serves specialty Starbucks beverages if you can't function without your morning caramel macchiato latte.

For a boutique hotel experience, book a stay at The Lindy Renaissance Charleston Hotel, available from 40,000 to 81,000 Marriott Bonvoy points per night. An outdoor saltwater pool and upscale on-site dining venues like Vivian Howard's Handy & Hot and Lenoir are among many reasons to overnight here before or after your cruise.

Hyatt hotels near the Port of Charleston

Hyatt Place Charleston/Historic District is a lovely hotel right in the heart of Charleston's historic area and within walking distance of area restaurants, bars and shopping. It also has a rooftop bar area for a nightcap with nice city views. Nights start at 12,000 World of Hyatt points, and your stay includes free breakfast.

Non-points hotels near the Port of Charleston

Charleston cruise port guide: Plan your trip to the Holy City - The Points Guy (3)

Charleston teems with hotels that don't participate in traditional loyalty programs. When it comes to those, here are a few of our favorites.

For a mid-mod vibe, check out The Dewberry Charleston. Overlooking Marion Square, the hotel is convenient to King Street shopping, restaurants and historic sites.

Families will love the resort-style vacation atmosphere of The Beach Club at Charleston Harbor Resort & Marina. Though not located downtown, it's right on the water, with taxi service from the marina to the city center.

Related: The 18 best hotels in Charleston, from historic inns to modern stays

Restaurants near the Port of Charleston

Charleston lands on many "best foodie destination" lists — and for good reason. Visitors can choose among just-caught seafood, local Lowcountry cuisine and upscale meals from James Beard Award-winning chefs. The Port of Charleston is convenient to the historic downtown area, so cruisers will find a bevy of destination dining and solid local eateries within walking distance or a short taxi ride away.

Fleet Landing Restaurant & Bar (186 Concord St.), the place for fresh seafood and waterfront views, is right next door to the cruise port. Head to Poogan's Porch (72 Queen St.) for traditional Southern dishes served in a historic Victorian home (five minutes from the port). Other options within a 10-minute drive of the port include Chubby Fish (252 Coming St.) or local favorites like Rodney Scott's BBQ (1011 King St.) and Cru Cafe (18 Pinckney St.).

Related: Best dining credit cards

Things to do in Charleston before or after your cruise

Charleston cruise port guide: Plan your trip to the Holy City - The Points Guy (4)

Charleston tops many "best destinations" lists thanks to its array of historic sites, cultural attractions and natural diversions. If you decide to spend more time in the Holy City before or after your cruise, here are some things to do in Charleston.

Hit the beach

The city of Charleston is on a peninsula surrounded by a harbor, so there's no beach access within its limits. However, if you crave a little extra sand time, you'll find some popular beaches within a fairly short drive.

A little over 9 miles (about 20 minutes) from Charleston, Sullivan's Island is a charming beach town that offers wide beach areas with water sports opportunities (kayaking, paddleboarding and sailing). Peruse local shops, or explore history at Fort Sumter and Fort Moultrie National Historical Park.

Folly Beach is less than 12 miles (about 21 minutes) from downtown. Its 6 miles of beach provide plenty of room for shelling, surfing or shark-tooth hunting. Or, take a guided kayak tour to Lighthouse Inlet Heritage Preserve for a closer look at the historic Morris Island Lighthouse.

Visit the International African American Museum

This 150,000-square-foot museum houses more than 150 artifacts, artwork and interactive digital exhibits that chronicle the survival and resilience of slaves who likely made their way to Charleston through Gadsden's Wharf, the country's largest slave auction site from 1772 to 1808. The museum resides on that site (Gadsden's Wharf, 14 Wharfside St.).

Explore the aquarium

Cruising with the kids? Families will want to check out the South Carolina Aquarium (100 Aquarium Wharf), less than a mile from the cruise port (about a four-minute drive). The waterfront facility is home to more than 5,000 animals, including rehabilitating sea turtles in the Zucker Family Sea Turtle Recovery facility. Two touch tanks hold sharks, horseshoe crabs, stingrays and sea stars. The aquarium also hosts daily dive shows and rotating exhibits.

Take in some art

If you're into art, two Charleston museums should definitely be on your radar. The three-story Gibbes Museum of Art (135 Meeting St.) is the oldest museum facility in the South. Here, you'll find a collection of more than 10,000 paintings, sculptures, photographs and furniture.

Head to the Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art at the College of Charleston (161 Calhoun St.) to peruse innovative works of emerging artists, seasonal shows and rotating exhibits. Admission is free.

Related: How to spend 48 hours in Charleston

Shopping near the Port of Charleston

Charleston cruise port guide: Plan your trip to the Holy City - The Points Guy (5)

Pick up last-minute cruise items at Tanger Outlets Charleston (4840 Tanger Outlet Blvd.), about a seven-minute drive from CHS. Harris Teeter (290 East Bay St.) is less than half a mile from the cruise port, should you wish to grab snacks, drinks and other groceries.

If souvenirs or upscale items are on your list, spend some time along Charleston's iconic King Street. Retailers like Free People, Urban Outfitters and Kate Spade line the cobblestone street along with locally owned shops offering jewelry, home goods and Charleston-branded items.

One of the city's most popular attractions is the historic Charleston City Market (188 Meeting St.). The open-air spot showcases local artisans selling paintings, spices and crafts, including hand-woven sweetgrass baskets.

Planning a cruise? Start with these stories:

  • The 5 most desirable cabin locations on any cruise ship
  • A beginners guide to picking a cruise line
  • The 8 worst cabin locations on any cruise ship
  • The ultimate guide to what to pack for a cruise
  • A quick guide to the most popular cruise lines
  • 21 tips and tricks that will make your cruise go smoothly
  • Top ways cruisers waste money
  • The ultimate guide to choosing a cruise ship cabin

Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Charleston cruise port guide: Plan your trip to the Holy City - The Points Guy (2024)


Why is Charleston stopping cruises? ›

After failing to secure a long-term deal with Carnival, the authority did not renew the cruise line's contract, which runs out this year, and ended its quest to build the new terminal hub. Instead, the ports operator decided to sell the waterfront property and turned to an out-of-state developer to draw up plans.

Can you get off a cruise ship without an excursion? ›

You are not obligated to book shore excursions through Carnival in order to leave the ship. Public transportation is available at each port. We suggest you visit your local library, bookstore or a pertinent website to determine where you would like to go.

Is it better to buy shore excursions on the ship? ›

For the most part, cruise lines do charge more than non-cruise-related tour operators for the same (or similar) outing. If you trust the company and feel confident that you won't miss the ship, it certainly makes sense to pay less by booking an excursion independently that could cost you more onboard.

Where do cruises from Charleston go to? ›

Most commonly, cruises from Charleston go to exciting destinations such as Bahamas, Caribbean - All, Dominican Republic, and USVI.

Is Carnival leaving Charleston in 2024? ›

South Carolina will be ending it's deal with Carnival Cruise Lines after 14 years, resulting in the end of departures from Charleston. South Carolina will be bidding farewell to Carnival Cruise Lines in 2024.

What cruise lines sell out of Charleston South Carolina? ›

There are three main cruise lines out of Charleston: Carnival, American, and Silversea.

Can you have fun on a cruise without doing excursions? ›

In most cases, you don't need to book a shore excursion to explore a port of call. You can simply walk off the ship and stroll into town or catch a cab to take you wherever you want to go. However, in some destinations, a shore excursion, or independently operated guided tour, is highly encouraged.

When cruising which side of the ship is best? ›

Eastbound cruises get the most sun on the port side; westbound on the starboard side. Watching a sunset over the ocean or seeing the sun slip behind distant islands can also be a reason for a side preference. To catch sunsets, you'll want to be on the port side on northbound cruises and starboard on southbound cruises.

Do you take your passport on shore excursions? ›

Taking Your Passport

Should you take your passport with you on shore excursions? No, you shouldn't bring your passport, unless your tour requires it. We recommend bringing your driver's license as a form of ID instead. You don't want to risk losing your passport ashore.

Do I need cash for cruise excursions? ›

You will most likely need cash while you're off the ship, especially in foreign ports. Not only can it save you money in foreign transaction fees that most credit card companies charge, but if you're traveling to certain parts of the world, you may encounter places where credit cards aren't accepted.

Is Charleston getting rid of cruise ships? ›

After 2024, one of America's oldest cities—and a major foodie destination—will no longer welcome cruise ships at the beginning or end of an itinerary. This severely affected Carnival Cruises, which used to claim Charleston as a departure port.

Where do you park when cruising from Charleston, SC? ›

Long-term vehicle parking is available on Port property for cruise passengers vehicles. Reservations are not required. Parking is in controlled-access areas available only to cruise passengers not the general public. The sites are secured and patrolled by Port Police during the cruise.

What is the name of the cruise port in Charleston, SC? ›

DRIVING DIRECTIONS: What is the address of the entry gate? The Union Pier Cruise Terminal entry point is Gate #2 located at the intersection of Concord and Laurens Streets, Charleston, SC 29401.

Why are cities banning cruise ships? ›

Some are looking to ban them altogether, citing environmental, social and economic concerns. The 218 cruise ships operating in Europe in 2022 emitted over four times more sulphur oxides than all of the continent's cars, according to Transport & Environment.

What cruise ship docks in Charleston, SC? ›

Cruises from Charleston South Carolina. Carnival Cruise Line.

Why do cruises get cancelled? ›

Usually, these cancellations are the result of a combination of bad weather and unprotected harbors that either don't offer adequate shelter and docking facilities, or which require passengers to be tendered ashore while cruise ships remain anchored further out.

Are there cruises that don't stop anywhere? ›

Many cruise lines advertise "cruises to nowhere," which might sound intriguing but leave you asking "just where exactly is nowhere?" Rest assured that nowhere is somewhere, indeed: These cruises simply go out to sea for a short sailing that's devoid of ports, where the main destination is the ship.


Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Laurine Ryan

Last Updated:

Views: 6470

Rating: 4.7 / 5 (77 voted)

Reviews: 84% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Laurine Ryan

Birthday: 1994-12-23

Address: Suite 751 871 Lissette Throughway, West Kittie, NH 41603

Phone: +2366831109631

Job: Sales Producer

Hobby: Creative writing, Motor sports, Do it yourself, Skateboarding, Coffee roasting, Calligraphy, Stand-up comedy

Introduction: My name is Laurine Ryan, I am a adorable, fair, graceful, spotless, gorgeous, homely, cooperative person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.